No anger when the boat is empty
I came across this zen parable about anger:
If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.
It made me think about why we even have an emotion we call anger on the first place, evolutionarily speaking, and why we don’t get angry at an empty boat. It’s probably an incentive to ensure you will not get hurt again, physically or mentally (I’d consider threats to your social status a form of mental pain).
For example, if you get cut off in traffic (or a boat hits your skiff), you’d get angry because it’s an automatic assumption that someone is deliberately trying reduce your social status by putting himself to be more important than you. Anger would incentivize you for revenge or confrontation to ensure that the person will never do that again to you. In a tribal society, such revenge/confrontation would likely work to guarantee a better future for you as you will be dealing with the person responsible on a daily basis. But in our society, where we are dealing with people that we may never see again, it has the exact opposite effect: your actions of chasing the car that cut you off could put you at risk of an accident, physical harm and even jail. The person responsible is someone whom you will probably never see again so cannot possibly hurt you again, whether you got angry or not. So rationally speaking, your actions and anger would be wasted and would reduce your quality of life (you could have been doing something you enjoyed instead).
It would make sense then to think of other cars in traffic (or any people you will likely never see again) as empty boats — just automatons doing things for themselves, without giving you a thought. Don’t be self-destructive — save yourself the costs of getting angry when it has no positive effects for you.
(Not everyone would stay calm at an empty boat. There are people who would try to find a scapegoat no matter what, and get angry at whoever was responsible for not tying up the empty boat on the first place. Anger in overdrive? Is it possible it will eventually be classified as a psychological condition?)
No comments yet.